On Monday, February 6, 2023, the Poly Global Scholars Global initiatives Program hosted a panel event on the Genocide of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The panel featured three amazing and intelligent speakers who each brought a different perspective on the issue but were all well-versed on the topic. The panel featured Bill Clark, Nurnisa Kurban, and Miran Mavlan. Dr. Bill Clark, a Poly alum and instructor of English taught at Xinjiang University in Urumqi for almost ten years when he and his family relocated to Kazakhstan. Dr. Nurnisa Kurban grew up in Kashgar, Xinjiang, earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Xinjiang University and then emigrated to the United States. Dr. Kurban is also currently the principal of McAlister High, a school that helps pregnant and parenting students receive a rigorous academic curriculum. And finally, Dr. Miran Mavlan is an avid Uyghur Rights activist who was born in Ghulja/East Turkestan and moved to the US at age 7. Dr. Mavlan is a member of the Uyghur American Association and has created two start-up companies.
I, along with my fellow classmate and global scholar Coco J, hosted the inspiring event. The purpose of the panel was to educate the Poly community about the genocide of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, particularly about who the Uyghurs are, why they're being persecuted, and what people could do to help.
The event started with Dr. Clark giving a slideshow presentation on the history of Uighurs in Xinjiang and how the genocide came about. His talk was very informative and really put into perspective the scale and the reality of the humanitarian crisis. Dr. Clark provided background information on the UN statement made in late August of 2022 about the Uyghurs, the role of technology in the genocide, and the inhumane conditions of the internment camps. What stood out to me most from this portion of the event was the Chinese government's use of high-tech surveillance in Uyghur areas and the “health checks” that Uyghurs are forced to endure. “Health checks” are when Chinese government officials can stop any person in the street and force them to take DNA samples, blood samples, fingerprints, voice recordings, or face scans against a civilian’s will. These very personal pieces of information are then used to track and control Uyghurs in China. Believe Dr. Clark finished by sharing his concern about the Uyghur children in China and how the genocide is affecting them. Dr. Clark shared a story about two young Uyghur children who were separated from their parents and subsequently forgot their native language. Thus, they were unable to communicate when they were reunited with their parents. This story was highly disheartening but so important to hear.
Next, Dr. Kurban shared her personal story as the victim of this modern-day genocide. Dr. Kurban’s talk was extremely effective. She started by showing us photos of her and her family when she lived in Kashgar, calling the location and the time her “happy place.” Then, Dr. Kurban described her perspective on Xinjiang’s shift from her happy place to what it is now. She recalled the moment when Uyghurs were banned from prayer, the time her father’s passport was confiscated, and the gradual decrease in communication she has had with her family over the years. “My family was gone,” she said. Dr. Kurban explained how she has not talked to her sister in six years, how her Uyghur friends suddenly disconnected from their WeChat, and how she learned about her father's passing via Facebook 48 hours after it had happened. She didn't even know he was sick when he passed. “He did nothing wrong,” Dr. Kurban pleaded: but “being me, being Uyghur, that’s enough.”
For me, Dr. Kurban’s speech was one of the most impactful stories I've ever heard. The emotion and the frustration she expressed showed me a side of the Uyghur genocide I have never seen before. It fueled my passion for this issue that Dr. Mavlan clearly shared.
After Dr. Kurban’s speech, Dr. Mavlan finished off the event with another passionate, empowering talk. The first thing I noticed about Dr. Mavlan was his passion. He was clearly emotionally impacted deeply by the genocide, and his enthusiasm when speaking was tangibly felt by the crowd. Personally, I got chills and know that many others were moved to tears. Dr. Mavlan pointed out that one of the Uyghur internment camps is currently the largest prison system on Earth, which was shocking to hear. But what stuck with me most from Dr. Mavlan’s speech was his attempt to describe the magnitude and the reality of the genocide. Dr. Mavlan expressed his frustration when trying to describe just how large the issue is. He compared scaling the genocide to trying to explain the number of stars in the universe or the depths of the sea: it's impossible. But then he shared a story about a boy standing on a beach full of washed-up starfish, so many that they covered the sand floor. And the boy was picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean because even if he was only making a small, tiny difference, at least he was making a difference. The story touched me and forced me to think about caring for people who I do not know.
All of the speakers Dr. Clark, Dr. Kurban, and Dr. Mavlan were extremely impactful and intelligent. Though I know that their stories already have and will have catalyzed so much change, I understand that telling their stories can rehash old trauma. I truly admire their bravery and vulnerability. I know those who attended were deeply moved and that this event will have impacts for years to come.
Please check out the resources below on ways to help the Uyghurs.
Uyghur Human Rights Project
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) promotes the rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan…
Uyghur American Association
Mission Established in 1998, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) is a non-partisan organization with the chief goals…
"Re-Education" Camps, Campaigns, Enforced Disappearances, Forced Labour, Genocide, Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights…